Violence and Death in Kids’ Movies

Arguably one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinematic history

Arguably one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinematic history

An interesting recent article in The Atlantic explores the prevalence of violence in G and PG-rated movies. It details the results of a study which compared the most successful animated children’s movies from 1937 to 2013 with the two top grossing films for adults from those years. The result? “Two-thirds of children’s movies depicted the death of an important character while only half of films for adults did, [and] the main cartoon characters in children’s films were two-and-a-half times more likely to die, and three times as likely to be murdered, when compared with their counterparts in films for adults.”

More specifically, they discovered that “in children’s movies, parents, nemeses and children were most likely to be killed off first, while in adult-geared films the movie’s protagonist was most likely to die first on-screen.”

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Cinderella loses her father and mother as well, but offscreen

So why is there so much death in entertainment for kids? Parents.com offers one explanation: “It’s natural for children, at various ages, to worry about being less loved than a sibling, starting school, and perhaps worst of all, being lost or abandoned. “Nothing is scarier than the thought of getting separated from your parents or having your parents die,” says Lawrence Sipe, PhD, a professor of children’s literature at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in Philadelphia. Rather than instilling these fears in children, fairy tales actually help kids face the fears they already have — and vanquish them.”

What do you think? Were you disturbed or fascinated by death in stories when you were a child? And is there a difference between secondary characters being killed as opposed to the protagonists, who are often children themselves?

Thanks to Assistant Director Josh for the Atlantic article! 

LE THÉÂTRE DU GRAND-GUIGNOL

The theatre was located in an alley off the Rue Chaptal in Montmartre

The theatre was located in an alley off the Rue Chaptal in Montmartre

Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol (literally, “theatre of the great puppet”) has come up a few times in conversations about the aesthetic for SHOCKHEADED PETER, and I don’t think it’s hard to see why. Grand Guignol (pronounced Grahn Geen-yol) has become a general term for entertainment dealing with macabre subject matter and featuring over-the-top, graphic violence. It stems from a theatre in Paris, founded in 1897, famous for its horrifying productions featuring gruesome scenes of murder, torture, and death.

“Audiences flocked to see the shows, at times screaming out if the drama went too far. However, some have claimed that these shows allowed Parisians to feel something, anything, in a way their ordinary lives did not. The Grand-Guignol was popular up until just after WWII when the real horror of the war brought a decline to the public’s taste for brutal, bloody fictions.”

What do you think about this interpretation? Are humans drawn to horrific, but fictional, stories and images because they allow us to experience emotions more strongly than we do in everyday life?

Find more gruesome pictures here.

Special thanks to Army of Broken Toys member Meff for these links!

Daguerreotypes

One of our central thematic and design touchpoints for this production is the daguerreotype.

dag featureThe daguerreotype was the first widely available photographic process available to the public, beginning around the 1840s, and falling out of favor by the late 1800s when newer methods became cheaper and easier to manage. These antique photos are identifiable by their particular aesthetic qualities: the image appears as if on a mirrored background, and depending on the angle at which it’s viewed, can seem as if it’s been printed in negative. In reality, the image is printed on the silver-coated glass as a reverse — the side we view is the side that was originally facing inwards, towards the camera’s guts. Another quality of the daguerreotype is that most prints were one-offs. Whereas later negatives could produce numerous paper photographic prints, copying daguerreotypes was pricey, labor intensive, and rarely done [source].

Of interest to us, perhaps, is this unique quirk of viewing daguerreotypes: “The surface of a daguerreotype is like a mirror, with the image made directly on the silver surface. It is very fragile and can be rubbed off with a finger. The finished plate also must be angled so as to reflect some dark surface for the image to be visible. Depending on the angle viewed and the color of the surface reflected into it, the image can change from a positive to a negative. The viewer’s own reflection will be seen at the same time” [source].

At the time the process was introduced, photographing a subject in daylight required 10 full minutes of still exposure, making it difficult to effectively capture people (which also explains the particularly wooden poses and expressions in early daguerreotype portraits). Technical innovations soon sped the process up. By the mid-1800s, “for the first time in history, people could obtain an exact likeness of themselves or their loved ones for a modest cost, making portrait photographs extremely popular with those of modest means. Celebrities and everyday people sought portraits and workers would save an entire day’s income to have a daguerreotype taken of them” [source].

Both the Library of Congress and Harvard University have excellent collections of early daguerreotypes — view some highlights HERE and HERE.

Thoughts on Songs

During our first rehearsal, director Steven Bogart shared these initial thoughts about each of the songs, and their thematic threads.


Read the text of the original Hoffman verses (the inspiration for these songs) in our previous post about the source material.

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⇔⇔⇔⇔⇔

  1. OVERTURE: sets up the cautionary tale
  1. AUGUSTUS: the child who refuses to eat

Feeding children with our shame and fears. Trying to control their tastes, their physical needs and emotional needs. We insist on what goes into the minds of children.

The rebellion is we see in Augustus is the rebellion of the ignored and abandoned child. The abandoned child within us crying out for attention.

  1. CRUEL FREDERICK: the violent kid who doesn’t have empathy

A kid we all hate. We hate his rage at us. He is a monster, separate from ourselves, who gets what he deserves.

He is not us, he is outside of us. He’s the child we send away.

The adults sit back and watch Frederick bleed to death. He deserves it. When he dies, we are rid of the monster.

As we watch this child bleed and die, what becomes of us?

  1. HARRIET: the girl who played with matches

Outside:

  • psychological distress
  • curiosity
  • an incomplete understanding of cause and effect
  • a belief in the ability to control the flames

Unconscious:

  • impulsive behavior where creative outlets have been repressed. If you take away our expression we will burn down the house and the schools and die in the process.
  1. THE STORY OF THE MAN WHO WENT OUT SHOOTING: hunting, guns, children

The hunted become the hunters, the hunters become the hunted. The abused become the abusers.

Violence leads to more violence.

The Hare is female. She steals the Hunters gun, kills the hunter, his wife, her own baby and then herself.

We have seen these horrific stories in the news.

This story creates a hopeless world begging for an answer to the question; Can we escape the cycle of emotional and physical abuse that we perform on each other and ourselves. What has happened to us?

  1. CONRAD: the Thumbsucker

How do we nurture?

SHAMING from the parents or the adult regarding the child’s physical and emotional needs creates the monster that disgusts and embarrasses us.

If the child can’t be controlled, they must be die.

Killing the child is the metaphor for repression. But there is no escape from our own fears as the consequence of our adult behavior festers in our unconscious.

7. THE BULLY BOYS: if you do not toe the line you will be killed

At first this may seem like a cautionary tale to children who like to pick on others.

But when we consider of the character of Agrippa, the ruthless Roman General who put down rebellions during the reign of Augustus, the boys become figures that refused to behave as the culture or government demands.

The rebellious spirit must be crushed.

  1. FIDGETY PHIL: the child with the ‘issues” — ADD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, Aspergers, etc.

The kid who won’t sit still. We see them in the schools, in restaurants, coffee shops, movies, supermarkets.

We bring shame on the ‘bad’ parents who can’t control their little monsters.

  1. JOHNNY HEAD IN AIR: the artist dreamer, the child with their head in the clouds

We must control the artists or they will float away into oblivion and drag us with them.

  1.  FLYING ROBERT: the adventurer

We are drawn to the power of nature. A child’s passion for meaning and a profound connection with nature frightens us. It’s dangerous and should not be encouraged. The lessons passed on from one generation to the next. Don’t be frivolous, don’t risk failure.

The children can not feel the vitality of life and become timid, frightened adults who live in fear of change and death. We obsess about children playing ‘carefully.’ We don’t let them fall or fail because their failure reflects on us.

We hate losing more than we love winning.

11. FINALE: the adult infant reaching out to all of us for help

First Thoughts & Impulses: Director’s Notes

Steve read this document to the cast, creative team, and guests at the first cast meeting and read-through on November 25, 2014.

Some First Thoughts & Impulses: Notes from SHOCKHEADED PETER 1st Rehearsal

— Steven Bogart, Director

We’ve abandoned our children, we’ve abandoned ourselves, we’ve abandoned our inner child; suffering emotional trauma and fear of abandonment. Shaming and critical self talk. The angry/defiant child. The vulnerable child.

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Members of The Army of Broken Toys

The inner child has gone into hiding deep inside. In other words, it has been repressed or disowned by the subconscious mind in order to protect us from the pain and fear of the abandonment it carries.

The main problem with repressed and disowned parts of self is that they don’t stay repressed…they get triggered just like any other part of the self. When they do is when we have “reactions” that are grounded in the fear of abandonment.

An excerpt from The Uses of Enchantment (1977) by Bruno Bettelheim:

“A child needs to understand what is going on within the conscious self so that he/she can also cope with that which goes on in the unconscious. Understanding, however, is achieved NOT through rational comprehension of the nature and content of the unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out DAYDREAMS—ruminating, rearranging and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures.

“The child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which enable her to deal with that content. The unconscious is a powerful determinant of behavior. When the unconscious is repressed and its content denied entrance into awareness, then eventually the person’s conscious mind will be partially overwhelmed by derivatives of these unconscious elements or else he/she is forced to keep such rigid, compulsive control over them that her personality may become severely crippled.

“But when unconscious material is to some degree permitted to come to awareness and worked through in imagination, it’s potential for causing harm—to ourselves or others—is much reduced; some of its forces can then be made to serve positive purposes.

“However, the prevalent parental belief is that children must be diverted from what troubles them most: their formless, nameless anxieties, and their chaotic, angry, and even violent fantasies.

“Many parents believe ONLY conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to children—that they should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very natures—the propensity of all humans for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety.

“Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all humans are good. But children know THEY are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in her own eyes. The dominant culture wishes to pretend, particularly where children are concerned, that the dark side of man does not exist, and professes a belief in an optimistic meliorism.”

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The cast, during the read-through.

Shockheaded Peter is a hallucinatory expression of our fear of monsters, born from the abandoned child within.

Two Tracks:

  1. The main story holds the justification for all the other story/songs. Without this main story then, the show would be a series of vignettes.

The story is of the abandoned child, literally and metaphorically repressed, thrown into the basement of our adult psyche, motivated by shame, and the pathological cycle of abuse.

A manifestation of the abandoned child, crying out a warning to our adult selves. Repression, repressed impulses, feeling thoughts, desires, etc., cannot remain hidden.

  1. The stories (songs) are about the behavior that the adult world/dominant culture must control.
  • Fear of monsters.
  • Fear of ourselves
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of the future and of death
  • Fear of dreams, of unconscious states
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Fear of hallucinatory states of mind

The physical expression of the play through the design elements, the band, and various juxtapositions of acting styles contributes to the unconscious dream state in which the abandoned child-within lives.

The physical space of the play is the place of nightmares and the ID. The place where we have locked away our inner child. It is the inner abandoned child’s prison playground.

Another element is the plays absurdity and satirical effect, which is achieved by combining playful humorous rhymes of childlike lyrics with the gruesome punishment and outcome of each story.

All these stories illuminate behavior that stems from obsessive parental control, shame, and fear of abandonment. In this case, the fear of abandonment is two-fold.

The child’s fear that they are monsters in their parents eyes and will be thrown away, tossed out, discarded, punished and in Shockheaded Peter—killed, or left to die.

Motivated by shame, adults fear disapproval, rejection, and ostracism by the dominant culture which includes religious and spiritual expectations; the child represents all that is good with the world, all that is godly and one of the entrances into the afterlife. If the child is good, the gates to heaven are open to us.

There is a third major tension running through Shockheaded Peter; In the original Hoffman stories, the children were punished but not killed. In this case, the stories were used as cautionary tales to enlighten parents and children to proper behavior.

Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott wrote Shockheaded Peter partly as a critique of the Hoffman stories. Our perverse delight in the outrageous treatment of children reflects a deep concern for their welfare by drawing attention to the crazed manner in which adults want to save the young from themselves by destroying curiosity and adventurous spirits.

The appropriateness of Shockheaded Peter is, ironically, what Shockheaded Peter is about, then: a warning, if not a wild expression to the dominant culture about over-protective practices in education, motivated by a culture of fear that silences and seeks to control wild unchecked imagination.

As we work to stage Shockheaded Peter, we struggle with our need to protect children and ourselves from the theatrical violence of the stories. But the piece itself is a monster of our own creation; an expression of our unconscious festering needs, desires, and fantasies that scream for freedom.

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Band, cast, and director.